How do I choose the right criminal defense attorney?

In my years of practicing criminal defense, I’ve seen many types of criminal defense attorneys. I’ve seen how attorneys talk to their clients, talk about their clients and how they represent their clients in court. I am happy to say that I have watched some of the best. Sadly, I have also witnessed some of the worst. I’ve spent a fair amount of time lending an ear to folks who felt like their attorney did not give their best effort.

Since we have been practicing law, we have taken over numerous cases from other attorneys. Sometimes an attorney and their client go their separate ways due to a personality conflict that cannot be overcome. Other times it is due to disagreements over strategy, poor communication, usually on the part of both attorney and client or disparate expectations about the outcome of the case. However, in my experience, the most prevalent cause of client dissatisfaction is when attorneys over promise and underdeliver.

Many successful attorneys are nothing more than effective salesmen. They rely on natural charisma and bluster to impress and intimidate. While this style occasionally works and is what some clients seek, what truly yields the best results is when an attorney engages in rigorous legal work. I say this after years of experience working on some of the most serious and complicated criminal cases in Northern Michigan. My advice is to seek out the criminal defense attorney in Traverse City who has dedicated themselves to mastering their craft. This means knowing the “ins and outs” of criminal law, the Michigan Court Rules, the Michigan Rules of Evidence and the specific facts of the case.

When I talk to people who are seeking a criminal defense attorney, I advise them to ask each attorney they interview three questions: Who? What? How? Let me elaborate.

  1. WHO?

Ask who will be doing the work on your case. The “work” means discovery review, research, writing, attending hearings and making arguments on your behalf. Although unglamorous, the case review, research and writing is the most important, foundational work that is necessary to obtain the best possible outcome in your case. Because of this, it is important to ask who in the law office will be doing each of these things.

Typically, attorneys with the most name recognition employ other attorneys and paralegals to do their research, writing, case analysis, and preparation. While some really great attorneys employ really great people to help them, I have seen attorneys who do not have any real grasp on their case except for what has been spoon-fed to them by their staff. What happens when an unexpected legal issue arises on the fly, or when a fact was omitted from the script on which your fate depends? Be cautious in hiring an attorney who does not do the unglamorous work themselves.

  1. WHAT?

What kind of attorney are you talking to (i.e. what is their area of expertise)? What are the attorney’s strengths and which of these strengths can be used to help you with your defense? What—specifically—does the attorney intend to do when you hire them? What are the foreseeable and reasonable goals that the attorney can help you attain?

This is where you need to determine what kind of attorney you’re interviewing. Are they interested in working your case, uncovering your story and using the law to defend you in smart and effective ways? Or do they want to make the sale, sit back and hope for the best? Does their practice thrive on quality or quantity?

Be wary of any attorney who promises a certain outcome–specifically a dismissal or acquittal. A competent attorney will be able to give you an overview of the trajectory of your case if given a rough outline of the facts and issues. Based on your situation and your expectations, the attorney should be able to sketch out a preliminary strategy for your case.

  1. HOW?

Ask how the attorney is going to put you in the best possible position.  Are they going to glance over your file, make a few passes at the prosecutor for a plea deal only to come back and tell you this is as good as it gets?  Sometimes an attorney has to tell their client that this is as good as it gets, but you want an attorney who exhausts all avenues before settling. 

Ask the attorney if they plan to file any motions.  What are the motions they could file?  How will they work for you to implement the strategy they outlined for you?  Will they track down your witnesses?  Will they spend the time preparing with you and learning your story so you are fairly and accurately represented to the court and jury?

At Mas/Stig-Nielsen you’ll find that we perform all of our own legal research and motion writing. We will be the ones preparing for hearings and trial with you. We will be by your side every step of the way. We don’t sub-contract our work out to others and we don’t have assistants. We know that by doing all of the work ourselves we have the best chance at obtaining a good result for you. Hard work is behind all mastery. When you hire us we will master all the facts and law of your case. The only way to accomplish this is to put in the work.

The biggest and loudest of our ancestors may have run many caves then, but we wouldn’t be where we are today, if wasn’t for the clever ones who managed to harness fire, cook and cure food, and roll their loads on a couple of round, upright rocks. Smart criminal defense is about being prepared and using the law and facts to prevail. Bravado and ego only go so far. Good luck.

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